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Michael K. Williams, Actor Who Played Omar On 'The Wire,' Dies At 54

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Michael K. Williams has died. He was a prolific actor.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

And his roles included one of the most popular TV characters of recent decades, Omar Little.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE WIRE")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) What exactly do you do for a living, Mr. Little?

MICHAEL K WILLIAMS: (As Omar Little) I rip and run.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR: (As character) You...

WILLIAMS: (As Omar Little) I robs drug dealers.

INSKEEP: That's from the HBO show "The Wire," a crime drama about the drug scene in Baltimore. He appeared in other shows and films across more than two decades, including "Boardwalk Empire" and "The Night Of." Before acting, in his 20s, he left his job as a pharmaceutical representative to become a background dancer.

MARTIN: Williams refused to let hardship get in his way. The night of his 25th birthday, he got into a fight and was slashed across his face and throat. Those visible scars just became part of the characters he played.

WILLIAMS: I didn't allow myself to feel weak over that incident 'cause I knew that, mentally, I didn't have what it would have taken to really deal with what had just happened (laughter), so I didn't mentally go there.

INSKEEP: Williams was open about his own real-life struggles with addiction. In 2016, he told Fresh Air host Terry Gross about seeking help from a pastor.

WILLIAMS: One of his biggest sayings was, I'm going to love you till you learn to love yourself. He never judged. You know, he just nudged, you know? You know, Mike, you know, if you want to stop this pain, I can help you with this. But until you're ready, man, I'm your brother. He never - you know, I'm not saying he accepted me in my dysfunctionalism (ph), but he loved me in it. And it worked. It worked for me. It got me to want to become a grown man, to grow up and to stop acting foolish - or at least to make the attempt to stop acting foolish, you know?

MARTIN: Internally, he used his characters to heal.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WILLIAMS: I get to have these characters show me parts of myself that I can fix or make better or get rid of or just take a look at.

MARTIN: That was especially true of the notorious Omar Little.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

WILLIAMS: The only thing that I knew that I shared with Omar was his sensitivity and his ability to love and his ability to love deep. I knew that I had that in me.

MARTIN: One of his five Emmy nominations came this year for his role in the HBO show "Lovecraft Country." Michael K. Williams was 54 years old. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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